Philippine orphans fled from room to room to escape sea surge

Reuters
An aerial view of the devastation is seen in the aftermath of Super Typhoon Haiyan in Palo
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An aerial view of the devastation is seen in the aftermath of Super Typhoon Haiyan in Palo, a township …

By Nathan Layne

PALO, Philippines (Reuters) - Officials at an orphanage in the Philippines say they feel blessed that not one child was harmed by one of the biggest typhoons the world has known, even though it reduced most surrounding structures to rubble.

Dolores Baculanta, 49, said she was getting ready to bathe the children, of pre-school age, when she heard cries for help from the nursery in the coastal town of Palo. The roof was buckling under strong winds, with 12 toddlers inside.

Helped by 60-year-old security guard Oscar Macaray, she and another caregiver put the toddlers into two cribs and rushed them to a nearby office.

When that room's roof began to crumble, they moved the cribs into the hall.

"It was very dangerous because the wind was so strong," said Baculanta. "I didn't know a safe place to go. The water had risen up to my knees."

Nearby, 18 children between the ages of three and 10 had been moved into a conference room. Before the waters flooded in, they sought shelter under two large tables. As the water quickly rose, they climbed, or were helped, on to the table top.

"I prayed and I helped Rose, who was about to drown," seven-year-old May Joy recalled.

Before the storm, the government-run orphanage and shelter housed 108 women and children, many of whom had been abandoned or sexually abused.

Palo was one of the towns that took the brunt of Typhoon Haiyan, which killed more than 4,000 people and displaced millions across the central Philippines.

Alicia Bolante, one of the orphanage's leaders, said strong concrete walls at the back of the compound facing the sea were probably responsible for ensuring the buildings held up while many surrounding structures were washed away.

A day after the typhoon, three children were flown on a C-130 military plane to the capital, Manila, to be placed with new adoptive parents.

A two-year old boy went to a Spanish couple and siblings to an Italian family, in arrangements made before the storm.

The loss of family members, friends and homes is a trauma that children's group UNICEF is helping to resolve in centers being built across the devastated nearby city of Tacloban.

The first of seven "child-friendly spaces", with clean tents for play, learning and discussion, was set up on Wednesday and will be supplied with sports and arts equipment once a delayed shipment arrives.

On Thursday, a dozen young children giggled as they sang, played and prayed inside a tent.

Pernille Ironside, a UNICEF child protection specialist, said play was a good way to distract children from the short-term struggle. In the longer term, counseling and discussion sessions would help.

"A young girl I met, eight years old, lost 20 of her classmates and friends," she said. "How do you process that?"

UNICEF estimates that 1.7 million children have been internally displaced by the storm and has appealed for $61.5 million to help.

(Additional reporting by Maxim Duncan in Tacloban; Editing by Nick Macfie and Clarence Fernandez)

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